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Euros rejection hit hard: Hunt

AS A man who says that he's already thought about finishing up his sporting career playing club hurling back in his native Waterford, Stephen Hunt could be seen as a player whose career is on the slide.

But on a visit to Dublin yesterday for some PR work, the 31-year-old - who is currently sidelined due to an operation on a troublesome hip and will not be kicking a ball in anger again until mid-January - made an impassioned defence of his record and also his future with club and country.

Unlike so many staged interviews with footballers, a chat with Stephen Hunt is never dull.

Over a long conversation he mentioned his love of horses (he owns or co-owns four and regrets that he had failed to put money on one of his own, Drumlang, when it came home at odds of 33/1 last month), and his habit of taking slimming pills (over 30 a day) to ensure he's in top condition when he's fit to play again.

But what's clear in Hunt's voice is his bitter disappointment at how the whole Euro 2012 experience went for him, as Hunt was one of those Irish players who came home from Poland without kicking a ball at the finals.

"I was pissed off. Angry. Heartbroken," he says.

Yet he still opts not to stick the knife into the back of the manager who failed to play him at those finals and who, in Hunt's version, went back on a promise - given by Giovanni Trapattoni's assistant Marco Tardelli - that he would at least get some game time against Italy in the final group game.

The relationship between Hunt and Trapattoni has edges of the Tony Soprano/Paulie Gualtieri partnership in The Sopranos, a mixture of deep loyalty but also deep frustration. Hunt has started just one international in the last 15 months.



Bother

"I have been written off a lot of times in my career so this won't bother me," he told the Evening Herald.

"I am still there, and the manager has been good to me over the years. But he is ruthless, and he will do what he thinks is best for the team.

"Of course, what I think is best for the team and what the manager thinks are different but this manager will do whatever it takes to win a game, that's why he has gone so far and been so successful in his career.

"You get that with foreign managers, he could walk past you in the morning and not say hello to you. Foreign managers are like that, they are the boss, they are the main man," added Hunt, knowing that his current boss at Wolves is Norwegian.

"You shouldn't question them as they are the ones in charge and I respect that.

"I think British and Irish players have an attitude where they think, 'I should be in the team every week'. But you have to angle that in the right way.

"You can be frustrated but you have to deal with it," added Hunt, who also came out with some more background to the row over Stephen Kelly's position before the qualifier away to the Faroe Islands.

Hunt's take on things is at odds with the FAI stance that there was no row between Kelly and the Ireland management.

"It's like the Stephen Kelly situation recently: his frustration boiled over a couple of months after the Euros, but he came back, and rightly so.

"It means more to him to play for his country than sitting at home so fair play to him for swallowing his pride a bit. He said he was going home but he came back," says Hunt.

"He is the manager and you cannot tell him anything. There are times you'd think he would have played Shane Long and Kevin Doyle together but the manager went with Coxy.

"He sees a way of playing and the Italians have been more successful than us over the years so who are we to tell him how to win games? That's not to say that he's right all the time but that's the way it is, he's the boss."



Cloud

Hunt has sat out so many Ireland games recently - his last appearance was as a sub against Hungary before the Euros - but is still aware of the cloud that has hung over the game here since Euro 2012.

"Without a doubt, there is still a hangover there from the Euros, and you can see that in the crowd for the Greece game, how disappointing the games were at the Euros - the Germany game - it all accumulates and people stay at home," Hunt says.

"Next year the campaign will come to a crunch early on, with the qualifiers in March, and if we can get some points and rejuvenate things maybe people will come back to the games.

"But for now I guess you need to be playing well and the team need to be getting results for the people to come back."

He also hopes to be back soon. Currently working in the gym at Wolves, he aims to be back in the Wolves side - or at least back playing football as pre-injury Stale Solbakken had made it clear that Hunt was surplus to requirements - and back in the Irish squad for the World Cup game away to Sweden in March.

"When I'm fit, I won't be frozen out. I will play. If I'm 100 per cent fit, the way I feel now, then I'll play."


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